As Christmas fast approaches and decorative lights are switched on in cities, towns and villages across the UK, shopping can be an exhausting and stressful task. So, why not escape the crowded shopping centres and malls and head to Europe’s traditional Christmas markets where you can purchase unique gifts and soak up the wonderful atmosphere with a spot of traditional carol-singing and a local festive tipple.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, take a trip back in time where the cobbled streets of Bath are transformed into a magical scene derived from one of Jane Austen classics.
The city’s renowned Georgian architecture sets the scene for this traditional festive event and thousands of shoppers from near and far head to Bath’s Christmas markets every year to enjoy up the merry atmosphere; be it through copious amounts of aromatic mulled wine or browsing around the wooden huts that surround the paved piazza in front of the towering Abbey Cathedral.
My accommodation, the delightful Brooks Guesthouse, was just a ten minute walk from the city centre of Bath and during this short stroll I found it easy to envisage what life would have been like during the festive period in the 19th century, as I passed Georgian townhouses built with the famous honey-coloured Bath stone and the glowing lantern-style streetlamps.
More than 130 traditional wooden chalet-style huts embellish the piazza and the cobblestone streets of Bath; each individually lit up and selling an array of glittering decorations, handmade gifts, and delicious food produce.
This year’s street vendors include Shobla Trading with a selection of handcrafted original silver jewellery set with semi precious stones; with crafted sparkling glass decorations and framed landscapes; Cranborne House with its range of traditional and unusual wooden toys; and Lick the Spoon, where sweet-toothed shoppers can stop to purchase a treat from the collection of award-winning luxury handmade chocolates and gifts.
For those who prefer to take a step back from retail therapy and absorb the magical ambience, there are plenty of opportunities to get into the Christmas spirit. Warm up with a hot chocolate and enjoy the sound of carols as they echo around the Abbey and drift through the market stalls.
Nestled on the banks of the Neckar River beneath the dense lush green wooded hillside sits Heidelberg, one of the most romantic cities in Germany with its famous fairytale castle, winding alleyways, and paved piazzas. This enchanting city is home to Germany’s oldest university and every year the Christmas markets bring fun and festivities to five squares across the Old Town.
The squares of Kornmarkt, Marktplatz, Universitätsplatz, Anatomiegarten and Bismarckplatz come alive with music, twinkling lights, sweet aromas of freshly baked food, and market stalls selling a variety of unique and traditional German gifts.
The medieval streets are bursting with entertainment, from storytellers, choirs and orchestras to children’s rides and an open-air ice rink where you can skate along to Christmas music.
With its Baroque architecture, narrow cobbled alleys and market squares edged with outdoor cafes that tempt passers-by with local delicacies, one day is not enough to take in the city’s sights during this festive period. A trip to the castle is a must and from 1st to 24th December, you can witness the delights of the Art-Advent Calendar when each day, a window of the English building on the west side of the castle displays the works of talented well-known artists.
Food lovers will be spoilt for choice with the market’s wide selection of festive hot treats including baked apples, gingerbread, grilled sausages and Christstollen, a special Christmas cake. Sip a glass of warm Glühwein wine, and soak up the magical atmosphere while enjoying views of the majestic castle that dominates Heidelberg’s skyline.
This beautiful lakeside town is famously known for its annual jazz festival and its beautiful landscapes comprising snow-capped mountains, lush rolling green hills and the sparkling water of Lake Geneva.
Situated at the foot of the Alps, the quaint town embraces the festivities with the arrival of the popular Christmas market that takes place in the Grand-Rue, along the lakefront and in the market hall.
The twinkling market is brimming with gifts, toys and crafts within 150 beautifully-decorated and illuminated wooden chalets and the magnificent atmosphere can be enjoyed throughout the Swiss Riviera town while you sip mulled wine and sample tastings of regional specialities.
This year’s event features a Children’s Kingdom in the covered market where little ones can take part in workshops to make gifts such as candles of sweet treats.
Work off all of those delicious treats by heading to the cross-country skiing track on the lakeshores, or embrace the festive spirit with a trip to see Father Christmas at Rochers-de-Naye, situated high above Montreux, 2045 metres above sea level.
Frankfurt’s Christmas Market dates back over 600 years and it is one of Europe’s most popular annual events, drawing visitors from all over the world.
The markets take place in Römerberg, Paulsplatz and Mainkai (Main Quay), and the focal point of the event has to be the huge decorated 30-metre-high Swiss Christmas tree that stands in Römerberg in front of the Town Hall, a medieval building with a striking tripe-gabled façade.
Frankfurt truly lives up to its name as the “city of contrasts” during this festive period, with traditional wooden huts, decorated stalls and the historic architecture of Römerberg set against the backdrop of the vibrant city’s modern skyline which is dotted with soaring skyscrapers.
The 200 market stalls are elaborately decorated and offer a wide range of gifts, arts, crafts, traditional wooden toys, decorations, and seasonal food and drink including mulled wine, gingerbread, and Bethmaennchen – a tasty almond flavoured German cookie.
The market features an array of daily entertainment from advent concerts and carol-singing, to the Chiming of Frankfurt’s church bells and trumpet fanfares from the balcony of St. Nicholas’s Church.
This magical winter wonderland is just 15 minutes from Frankfurt International Airport.